A customer recently asked me how we use Studer’s Pillars of Excellence to provide amazing customer experiences. Here is my unedited response to him:
I have to admit, I have never heard of Studer’s Pillars of Excellence. However, we do have constant focus on the five areas laid out in them. We base everything we do on our mission and vision, “we are solution providers and not product pushers. We believe everyone deserves to drive a nicer, newer car.” And, in service our mission statement is, “Key Hyundai wants to keep your car fun and safe to drive for as long as you wish to drive it.”
Our processes have been designed around the mission statement and not the other way around. And, it starts with me. I believe so strongly in our mission statement. The process to buy a car is much more daunting than it should be. My goal is to demystify the process. I preach the mission statement in almost every employee interaction. We always use the mission statement when praising an employee.
We believe in a coaching environment. That term is overused, for sure, but there’s no better way to say it. In a coaching environment, we recognize that it takes constant reinforcement of our beliefs, our processes, and our skills in order to provide the products and services our customers deserve. I think one huge mistake company’s use is that they put a system in place and then believe that they are done. The reality is, you can’t stay in a steady state. The laws of motion say that you will always be moving forward or backward. If someone isn’t guiding you forward, the likelihood is that you’ll start to fall backward. I even use a professional business coach to help push me forward. I talk to him weekly.
I always use the example of a professional athlete. The higher performing the athlete is, the higher-powered coaching they have. Every professional baseball player takes batting practice before every game. They never say, “I’m at my peak, I’m going to stop practicing.” Yet, we hire our front line people, whether it’s sales people for us, or front desk help for you, give them a bit of training, throw them into jobs with the public (who are getting more and more unreasonable) and expect them to peak perform all the time. It’s a losing formula. We need to be in an environment of constant training. And, that training has to incorporate the why they are doing what they are doing and just how important their jobs are to the company’s mission and vision.
In every opportunity I have to praise an employee, whether in a larger setting, via email or one-on-one, I always reference the “why”. An example is, “Bob, I bumped into Mrs. Smith in the waiting room. She was raving about you. That made me so proud because Mrs. Smith lost her husband last year and the fact that she feels so comfortable coming to you for her car servicing needs takes a huge amount of worry off of her. Keep up the great work. “ It goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy, after you get above the poverty line, money is not the only driving factor in an employee’s happiness. The closer we can get to figuring out their driving factor, the happier they will be and the better service they will perform.
The other thing that is very important to us is to keep our employees “in the know.” Whenever we poll them about what is demotivating to them, they say it’s when they aren’t “in the know” about what’s going on. They can’t always define what that means but they know when they feel out of the loop. I can only imagine that this is even more important in a large company. So, we do a couple of things to help with this. First, we use a leadership model where I make sure that me and my direct reports are: 1. Open (we share our personal successes and challenges with our employees), 2. Polite, and 3. Autocratic (we understand the buck stops with us and we have to be the final decision maker.). People want to know that you, as the leader, are a human being and not just a talking head. Second, I write a weekly letter to our employees and post it online at: http://www.jillmerriam360.com. And, third, we make sure each employee is involved in an all hands departmental meeting at least quarterly. I also have a “family breakfast” with all the managers (not just my direct reports) every other week at a diner. There is no agenda. Just to have breakfast and catch up on our lives.
Finally, when it comes to customer service, the buck stops with me. Each of our employees and our customers know it. That creates an environment of accountability because no one wants his or her customer to get as far as me. Every single customer has access to me via my personal assistant, Krista. Krista receives and handles every customer complaint that the company gets. She can handle 75% of them without me. But, the 25% that she can’t, I get involved in and we solve. We answer and address all complaints, no matter how big they are or how petty or ridiculous they are.
Here is a great blog post by Seth Godin (http://www.sethgodin.com) that explains why this is so important:
Customers who break things by Seth Godin
2% of your customers don’t get it. They won’t read the instructions, they’ll use the wrong handle, they’ll ignore the warning about using IE6. They will blame you for giving them a virus or will change the recipe even though you ask them not to.
And not only that, they’ll blame you when things go wrong.
If you do a very, very good job of design and UX and process analysis, you can lower this number to 1%.
But then what?
The thing is, blaming this group for getting it wrong helps no one. They don’t want to be blamed, and they’re not going to learn.
The other challenge, of course, is that the 1% keep changing. If they were always the same people, you could happily fire them. But there’s no way to know in advance who’s going to get it wrong.
If you’re going to be in a mass market business, you have no choice to but to accept that this group exists. And to embrace them. Not to blame them, but to love them. Successful businesses have the resilience to make it easy for them to recover. To make it easy for these people to find you and to blame you and to get the help they need.
Sure, whittle down the number. But the ones who are left? They’re part of the deal.
Lastly, we have to always balance the leadership, mission and vision with financial results. We have very strict financial metrics laid out and all the managers know that they need to stay within them. We track everything in a scorecard and we review them daily. I am a financial analyst by education and training. I always say, “the data will set you free.” The answers can always be found in the data. The solution may be somewhere else, but the answer to what’s working and what’s not working is always in the data. We always say that we know the processes are working well and the training is happening effectively, when our financial metrics steady out. If the company is not financial healthy, we cannot provide the tools to our employees, nor take care of our customers the way we want to.